Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Short composition history of the opera “Don Pasquale” by Gaetano Donizetti
In autumn 1842 Jules Janin, the newly appointed Director of Théâtre-Italien in Paris ordered an opera to Donizetti. Janin wanted a new comic opera, in which to appear his best singers – Luigi Lablache, Antonio Tamburini, Giovanni Mario and Giulia Grisi.
At the same time, in September Michele Accursi, an approached to Donizetti, attracted Giovanni Ruffini, who was living in Paris, to write the libretto for the composer. Donizetti wanted to use the story from the opera “Ser Marcantonio” by Stefano Pavesi, based on the libretto by Angelo Anelli, but he needed a person to remake the text, to shorten it, to add new nuances. Ruffini’s work didn’t go easy. He was forced to work exceptionally quickly and had almost no freedom. Each thing was absolutely changed by Donizetti. This made Ruffini give up his right and wish his name not to be connected with the libretto.
Regardless of the fact that he got over a serious illness, the composer wrote the music of “Don Pasquale” for only eight days. The opera is among the highest models of the buffo genre from the 19th century and an undoubted masterpiece of the art of belcanto. Donizetti’s remarkable talent created lively musical patterns, together with the beautiful melodies and the big and complex ensemble scenes.
The opera was performed for the first time on 3 January 1843 at Théâtre-Italien in Paris, and the premiere in Bulgaria was in 1932 with the conductor Assen Naydenov and the stage director Hristo Popov.
Don Pasquale expects with trepidation Dr Malatesta. The old man wanted to marry his nephew a descent girl, from a well-to-do family, but Ernesto is in love with the widow Norina. He has refused the arranged by his uncle marriage. Pasquale doesn‘t approve this choice and decides that it would be better for him himself to get married. The physician has taken upon himself the task to find him an appropriate wife. What Pasquale dosen’t know is that Malatesta has concocted a plan, with which to help his friend Ernesto. He declares with confidence that he had discovered a wonderful woman for wife of the old man. She is young, very beautiful, humble, she went out from a monastery, where she had led a secluded life, and the most important, she is sister of Malatesta himself – Sofronia. Don Pasquale is more than content. After seeing off the doctor, he begins dreaming of the future and the heirs, who he would leave. Ernesto enters and his uncle starts a conversation, in which he informs him that because he doesn’t agree to part from Norina and to enter into the arranged marriage, Pasquale himself would pass under the marriage ceremony. He has the intention to leave Ernesto without inheritance and even urges him to leave his home. When the young man understands that at the far end of this stands his closest friend, Ernesto is feeling betrayed and broken. In her home, Norina expects news from her beloved. When she receives the letter, in which he informs her about his uncle’s decision, she is strongly worried. At her door appears Malatesta, who reveals his plan to her. She would present herself for Sofronia and with her wild temper she would make Don Pasquale give up the matrimonial life. Norina agrees.
Ernesto is alone. He mourns over his fate and is about to depart, leaving his home and love. He sets off, just before Pasquale enters the room. The old man is dressed with his Sunday clothes and expects with keen anticipation Malatesta and his future wife. He gives instructions to his servants to let nobody else in the house and tries to assume a younger and fresher air. Malatesta arrives together with Norina, who he presents as his sister. The young woman presents herself as an exceptionally humble and innocent girl, who is not moved by social life and prefers the quietness and cosiness of home. Pasquale is struck by her beauty and immediately begs his friend to ask her whether she would marry him. She, of course, agrees at once, and Malatesta has prepared himself and invites a “notary”, with whom he has in advance arranged the pretended marriage. The Notary writes a premarital contract, the conditions of which are dictated by Don Pasquale, who grants Sofronia the rights to dispose of his entire property. The man puts his signature and just before his future wife to sign too in the room enters Ernesto. Utter confusion is caused. Malatesta is trying to calm down his friend, assuring him that everything which they were doing, was for his good. Right after the signing of the contract, Sofronia shows her “real” face. She rejects the caresses of her husband and declares that she doesn’t wish him to accompany her outside, because he was old. The woman gathers the servants and increases their salaries, she gives them orders, which would cost to Don Pasquale an entire fortune and turns upside down his home for minutes, because she didn’t like the old-fashioned furniture and decorations. Pasquale is lost in astonishment and after the wild scandal he is feeling faint.
Pasquale is in his home, surrounded by expensive dresses and ornaments. His servants are running around, each one of them with the tsk, given to him or her by the mistress. Don Pasquale decides to show courage and to oppose to his tyrannical wife, because from the bills and the invoices, which he is looking at, becomes visible that she is on the way to ruin him. Sofronia enters the room by him. She is wearing an expensive dress and declares that she intended to go to the theatre an at that without the company and the consent of her husband. Pasquale thinks that this is a convenient occasion to tell her not to come back at all, but his wife responds mockingly. Between both of them breaks out a scandal in the culmination of which Norina slaps him in the face. When she goes out, she on purpose lets fall on the floor a note with an invitation from another man to meet themselves during the night in the garden. Shocked, Pasquale orders to call Malatesta. The servants are also not content with the lot of work, which the new mistress has ordered to them. When Malatesta comes, Ernesto receives him. The physician reminds the young man of his plan and sends him in the garden, where to wait for Norina. Don Pasquale enters at the end of his tether. He wants to expose in public the unfaithful Sofronia, but Malatesta succeeds to calm him down and to offer him another plan. Both would hide themselves at the arranged place of the meeting and would waylay the lovers. In the garden. Don Pasquale and Malatesta find Sofronia with her lover, but Ernesto covers himself with the mantle and runs away into the house. Pasquale stands in front of his wife with the intention to chase her away. Sofronia is unflinching, but then interferes Malatesta, who tells the betrayed husband that if he agrees to marry Ernesto and Norina, Sofronia wouldn’t be glad at all and this way he would get rid of her. Don Pasquale is ready to “give thousands of Norinas” to his nephew, if only this would set him free from Sofronia’s chains.
Pasquale calls Ernesto and let him bring his beloved. In this moment all of them reveal the truth to the old man. The plan has succeeded, Don Pasquale forgives them and gives his blessing to both lovers.